Heroin and Portland, Oregon
The Saturday of Memorial Day weekend I was channel surfing while on an exercise bike. A documentary on MSNBC called “The Runaways” about the thousands of homeless kids throughout the U.S. stopped me in my tracks (The program was first shown in 2001, so it’s puzzling why it’s still appearing. I did check for current information, which I’ll get to.) Many of these kids were flocking to Portland because of the ease of obtaining heroin — the narrator said the city had an influx of 100 kids a month. He also called the city the heroin capital of the West.
It was hard to watch. “Chris’s” story was jaw-dropping. Now 21, he had been on the street since age 16. He was panhandling, hoping for $40 a day to feed his habit. At one point he made a copy at Kinkos to be able to use the restroom (to shoot up, I think.). “Jesse” spoke of the group of homeless kids he hung around with as his “street family” and said that they beat up other kids when necessary, such as when someone owed them money.
Portland had a lot going for it. The business community was supportive, even building a center for the many teens on the street and the police, too, were compassionate. The town’s needle exchange program was held up as both progressive, but it was also controversial.
Anyone who noticed that the documentary was 10 years old might be curious about what’s happening now, so I checked for updated information. In mid-May, an Oregon TV station broadcast the bad news: Portland is still known for easy access to heroin. Also disturbing is that there are “newer, younger users” in town, some of whom started with prescription pill abuse.
The documentary spoke of one kid in the group who had died, and one who hadn’t been successful in rehab. So many young lives devastated.